Wellesley’s Nearly-Nude Sleepwalker Has Everyone Talking About Art

Sculptor discusses controversial piece at college Thursday night, as students flock to social media.

The Sleepwalker by Tony Matelli at Wellesley College's Davis Museum. Credit: Kent Dayton on Instagram.
The Sleepwalker by Tony Matelli at Wellesley College's Davis Museum. Credit: Kent Dayton on Instagram.

For a nearly-naked sleeping inanimate object, the Sleepwalker has caused quite a stir at the Wellesley College campus.

Since its installation outside the Davis Museum as part of the New Gravity exhibit by Tony Matelli, the practically naked statue has drawn criticism from some, while others have enjoyed the piece. It's also become a viral, Internet and national media sensation. 

Over 700 people have signed a petition to museum officials asking for the removal of the statue, saying that it “does not speak to the power of art to inspire dialogue but rather to the power of the nearly nude, white, male body to disturb and discomfit. Even unconscious and vulnerable, he is threatening.”

But museum director Lisa Fischman said the Sleepwalker will stay as part of the exhibit:
“Matelli's Sleepwalker -- considered up close -- is a man in deep sleep. Arms outstretched, eyes closed, he appears vulnerable and unaware against the snowy backdrop of the space around him. He is not naked. He is profoundly passive. He is inert, as sculpture. But he does inspire narrative. He appears to have drifted away from wherever he belongs and one wonder why; one wonders also how he has gotten so lost, so off course. He is a figure of pathos, and one that warrants measured consideration. Perhaps he carries metaphorical weight. Art provokes dialogue, and discourse is the core of education. In that spirit, I am enormously glad to have your response.”

In a discussion on the entire New Gravity exhibit Thursday evening, Matelli told visitors that this is his third Sleepwalker statue, but the first to be placed outside a building. Photos of a female Sleepwalker statue, in only her underwear, have been posted on Twitter.

"This is a sculpture I wanted people to feel empathy towards, because there's pathos in this sculpture, it's almost a sad sculpture," Matelli said Thursday night.

Students are interacting with the sculpture, as seen in the selfies and photos culled together from Instagram and Twitter in the Storify above. Scroll through to see the photos, as well as the appearance of the Sleepwalkers “own” Twitter account—a parody account that was started on the social media page this week.

What do you think of the Sleepwalker statue? Is it art and starting a discussion? Or is it an image of a man as a sexual predator? Tell us in the comments below.

ray February 08, 2014 at 08:38 PM
Art, eh? Sounds like a toddler proud of using the toilet and pointing to what he just made. Because you can say it don't make it so.
mind springy February 08, 2014 at 11:32 PM
I think it's interesting and witty. For the people that don't like it, did you also dislike that 'piss christ' thing a few years ago? Or were you fine with it? Would be tremendously hypocritical to hate this but be ok with that.
J D C February 09, 2014 at 07:29 AM
"Trending" lol. Nothing more needs to be said.
James V. Aulenti February 09, 2014 at 09:42 AM
to: mind springy. I did not see the " art " you refer to, but if I did I would have found it revolting. Any commentary or message that cannot be evoked in words, but must be demonstrated in so called ' art ', is not a message, it is a mess, and an act of moral cowardice: Even a nom de plume would have more integrity than these things, which I consider to be on the same continuum as terrorism: they do not have the courage to state their case in public or to educate or persuade, so, they must offend and inflict. This is nothing more than neurosis made public. There is another word for that: cowardice. Not only is the art ' pathos ' but so is the artist, the art director, and the campus leadership who evidently ignore their own students needs in favor of the art directors misguided ' ethos ' of art. Picasso or Van Gogh or Dali never made such filth. We live in a society in which everyone decries the degeneration of taste and morals, yet here we have a world class college adding to that trend. Where are you leading your earnest students, Wellesley College? Is this the message you want to be known for? Is this how you want to be known around the world? I have no money at stake here, but some parents might, and they may think twice before sending their beloved daughters to a college demonstrating vapidity. Let it be interesting and witty inside where civil people need not be exposed to it, if it must be exposed at all. As for hypocrisy, nothing is more offensive to me than covert sarcasm or sacrilege or commentary on religious beliefs. Even further, to denigrate Christ - the most moving, influential, compassionate figure to ever walk this planet - shows blatant disrespect for the sentiments of billions of people, many who dragged themselves out of the mud with nothing but faith, the faith He taught us to have. This would be true whether persons believe Christ is The Son of God, or Moses or Buddha or Confucious or Caesar: those beliefs are sacred and should be respected, or at a minimum, tolerated; and lack of tolerance, disrespect, usually foments hate and not love. So let us all be very careful about whose noses we tweak...what goes around, comes around. If no beliefs are sacred, then, what are they good for ? And if art is distasteful and offensive, is it art ?
mostmoderateD February 09, 2014 at 11:10 AM
I'm so sick of hearing about this I wish the story would go away.


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